Right after he fought Evan Dunham on June 12 at UFC 115, Tyson Griffin made the type of request that always plays like music to Dana White’s ears: Get me back in there as soon as possible. Having dropped a tough split decision to his Xtreme Couture training partner—yet coming out of the fight healthy—Griffin made the call and volunteered his services should anything open up for him. As chance would have it, Joe Stevenson injured his knee for his tilt with Takanori Gomi at UFC Fight Night 21 in San Diego, and Joe Silva granted Griffin his wish by offering him a quick-turnaround scrap.
And just like that a serendipitous and highly explosive match was put together for August 1 between him and the “Fireball Kid.”
“I had let the UFC know that I wanted to get back in there if anybody dropped out, and I think I got a gift that’s a perfect opportunity for me,” the 26-year-old lightweight says. “I’m very happy with it, and I’m looking forward to taking care of Gomi.”
Griffin has good reason to be excited. A date with the world-class PRIDE and Shooto fighter Gomi has that famous acronym—FOTN—written all over it. Then again, fights involving Griffin usually do. He has gone 7-3 in his first 10 fights in the UFC (14-3 overall), securing five Fight of the Night honors and one Submission of the Night (a rear naked choke of David Lee in his Octagon debut at UFC 63 in 2006). He’s a high-octane, forward-moving dervish of a fighter who loves to stand and bang, and he knows the warrior mentality of the one-time PRIDE champion Gomi (31-6-1) suits that style.
“Gomi’s not going to run, not going to hide, he likes to fight, he likes to trade,” Griffin says. “And that’s what I like to do, so it’s going to be a hard-nosed battle. He’s a hard-nosed guy who’s going to be in my face trying to fight me, so as long as I’m fighting him back it is going to be one of those back-and-forth crazy battles.”
As for Gomi’s hard to read stances, angles and striking?
“I think that’s the one thing he brings that I haven’t faced recently, that simple toughness and knockout power,” he says. “It’s kind of like Hermes Franca where he can hit you with one shot that could change the night. As far as him being a southpaw, I’ve fought plenty—my last opponent was a southpaw. Southpaw’s not a big deal at all. The biggest thing is his awkward punches. He throws weird stuff.”
One of the things that Griffin admits to getting away from in his last fight with Dunham was his old bread and butter discipline—wrestling. Though he knew that the upstart Dunham was game well before they mixed it up in Vancouver, in retrospect Griffin feels he should have thrown his standing approach out the window and improvised a little more as the fight went on, letting his grappling take over.
His reluctance to do so? The off chance that he might become boring to watch.
“I stuck to my game plan, and that was the problem,” he says. “I should have changed it after losing that first round and mixed things up and gone to what’s going to win the fight. I think sticking to my game plan is what hurt me. I’ve got to go in there with a game plan and be willing to change it at the drop of a hat. Same thing going into the fight with Gomi. I’d love to stand up with everybody but, if he gets a takedown I’ve got to be willing to a boring grappler, I guess, and win the grappling match. It’s something that I’ve got to work back into my training, that fights are won on the ground.”
Tweaking the mental approach and re-emphasizing wrestling is what Griffin’s working on as he crams for his next fight. This training camp is really just an extension of his full camp for Dunham, so physically he says he feels ready to go. That’s really saying something, too—staying lean is no small feat for a self-proclaimed gourmand who confesses his biggest hobby outside of fighting is food.
“I’m walking around at 170 right now, but when I’m not training I blow up to around 180,” he says. “My biggest passion is food. I like to cook and do all that. In training I’m always trying to make new healthy food and out of camp I’m trying to make new fattening food.”
The striped bass and tilapia he catches on his boat at Lake Mead can go either way, burbling in butter or grilled dry—but all that will have to wait a little longer, because his love of fighting definitely out-passions his want of a decadent meal. For a guy still in his mid-twenties, Griffin is a stalwart who has fought an all-star cast of lightweights already, including current champion Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida and Sean Sherk, not to mention Urijah Faber, whom he handed his first loss back in 2005. He embraces being a contender in the most stacked division in the UFC, and it’s a far cry from hanging sheet rock and some of the odd jobs he did to support his MMA habit.
The job he held that seems unimaginable today? Well, learning the gentlemanly art of floriology at a local warehouse club retailer. Tyson Griffin—the stacked cardio-freak who just keeps coming in the cage—can tell you that a daffodil symbolizes chivalry.
“The oddest job I’ve had was working at a flower stand at Costco that a friend of mine subcontracted out,” he says. “That was the only real odd job I’ve had, but with the lack of hours and the lack of pay I returned to construction. I learned more at the flower stand, man, and I was telling everybody about flowers.”
Besides his more regular gym partners like Gray Maynard at Couture’s, one of the guys helping him prepare for the southpaw Gomi is Dunham himself, who is back at Xtreme Couture training for his own bout with Sean Sherk.
“I was definitely back in the gym before Evan, since I had a fight scheduled,” he says. “But he’s back in there now and I’ve been training with him this week. There’s no bad blood at all.”
That’s a little insight into Griffin; he’s a guy who hates losing but is pretty far from being a sore loser.
“At the end of the day I’m a competitor,” he says. “I love to compete and that’s why I got into this sport. Losing never gets easy. Winning gets easy, fighting gets easy . . . but losing never gets easy. So it’s frustrating to have that [Dunham] loss on my record. I hate losing. There’s only three losses on my record and every one of them I hate.”